Stolen computer detected by nonprofit's wireless network

Cindi Riley couldn't believe her eyes as she monitored activity on the Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry's wireless computer network last month.

Connected to the unsecured network was one of the nonprofit's old computers, a computer among seven stolen during a late-January burglary at the group's Beaufort office.

"I was so mad," said Riley, the charity's assistant executive director. "Someone was using one of our stolen computers within range of our network."

Riley forwarded her findings to the Beaufort Police Department and Investigator George Erdell, who had been assigned the case.

Investigators traced the computer to a home two doors down from the Prince Street office and recovered one of the stolen computers Friday, said Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy.

The home's resident, a 34-year-old man, told investigators he had been given the computer, Clancy said. He was arrested for receiving stolen goods, a misdemeanor offense based on the estimated value of the computer. The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet do not usually publish the names of those charged with misdemeanors.

Clancy said the man is a person of interest in the department's ongoing investigation into the break-in, which could result in felony charges.

The theft disrupted the Literacy Volunteers' program and was considered a major setback for the recession-challenged agency.

"The theft deprived our students of valuable instruction as we worked to secure our site, file insurance claims and replace computer equipment," said Nancy Williams, the Literacy Volunteers' executive director.

Riley said an insurance settlement covered the cost of new computers for the office, which has since been equipped with a "very loud alarm system."

It cost Literacy Volunteers $2,000 to outfit the Beaufort office with the alarm system, Williams sasid. Security systems also protect its Bluffton and Hilton Head Island offices.

"We have electronic surveillance at all our sites, which is, sadly, a cost for not-for-profit businesses these days," she said.